MotoGP 2012 Rider Review #1 – Valentino Rossi

Just missing out on the top five and in sixth place is a man who has more World Championships than the team he was riding for. The nine times World Champion; Valentino Rossi certainly didn’t have an easy ride this season as he battled through a difficult season which would be his second worst in the sport, after 2011 which was also on a Ducati.

His teammate, Nicky Hayden, was no slouch and it looked like he may have had the better of Rossi at times, especially in qualifying where it was stacked up as 11-5 in favour of Hayden in sessions they both set times in, most of the times Rossi out-qualified him was in the latter stage of the season, after Hayden’s injury. On the Sunday though, it was Rossi who had the better of Hayden as he outraced him eight times to five.

One of these though, wasn’t in Qatar as Rossi was looking to make a good start to show that Ducati were competitive again, but it didn’t work out that way. He qualified down in a lowly 12th over two seconds off the pace and raced on to round out the top 10, 33 seconds down on the leader. He improved in Jerez despite starting in a lower placed 13th, he went on to finish ninth but 34 seconds off the leader, the Ducati bike had no pace as Hayden, in eighth, was 28 seconds off the leader. He again improved in Estoril as he out-qualified and outraced Hayden for the first time this season finishing up in a more competitive seventh position. His fortune would then take a rapid turn for the better as it was discovered that the Ducati did have some pace, but in the wet. He took seventh in qualifying again, ahead of Hayden as well and then was engulfed in a battle that took the majority of the race with the two Tech 3s. He eventually fought his way past the pair who dismounted shortly after and he had eyes for Stoner’s second position. His first attempted move didn’t work out as Stoner just cutback under him but the clinical saw him take second place and finish only nine seconds behind the leader, Jorge Lorenzo, in what was the best performance for Rossi and Ducati in the race this season.

Rossi’s result was then proved to be exclusive to wet conditions as he then qualified down in ninth again but managed to take another competitive seventh position, moving him up to sixth in the Championship and only five points behind Crutchlow. In Silverstone, it was looking like he could be on the pace again after a wet practice and a rain affected qualifying, but it dried out for the race leaving him to finish in ninth place, his podium in Le Mans seemed more distant every race. He took his worst result of the season in Assen after unpredicted tyre chunking on the rear, he was forced to pit and give up hope on what could have been his best dry finish of the season so far. He would, however, take his best dry result of the season so far in the next race in the Sachsenring where he battled a train of six riders to finish two tenths behind Bradl and take sixth. His season looked to be on the up as in front of his adoring home fans, he bettered his best dry result again for the second time in as many races as he again finished behind of Bradl, by nine tenths this time, but defended hard and fairly from Cal Crutchlow throughout to take a well-earned and hard fought fifth position, only 11 seconds off the leaders, a sign the Ducati was improving and had pace at power tracks.

His streak of good results came to an end at the next round in Laguna Seca as he suffered an incident at the top of the corkscrew. This ended his race, but at the end of the race, his teammate, Nicky Hayden, came back around and offered Rossi a lift back to the pits, just an example that during intense rivalry, chivalry still exists. In the second USA round, Rossi cruised home to seventh after taking it easy to avoid another crash, part of the reason he finished 27 seconds behind Bradl. He mirrored the result in Brno after taking his best qualifying position and his first second row start of the season in sixth place.

He started sixth again in Misano where, under the watchful eye of his good friend Marco Simoncelli at the newly renamed track in his honour, Rossi took an emotional podium, benefitting from a fantastic start, rocketing him up to second and didn’t look back after that. Rossi finished four seconds off the lead, did the Ducati have some pace left, or was it just the testing they did previously at Misano? In Aragon, it was looking more like the latter than the former as despite another an eighth qualifying, he was forced odd the track, unintentionally, by Rea meaning he had to take the slip road and re-joined in last. He then stormed through the field to finish eighth and 12 seconds behind Rea, setting the eighth fastest lap. His pace was consistent but his finishing position lowly. In Motegi, Rossi started in ninth and raced on to finish in seventh while in a wet Malaysia, he was looking good for fifth and finishing in front of Hayden, but went wide and dropped all the way back to ninth. He gained positions on every lap after that to retake fifth spot but had his teammate ahead of him in fourth. In Philip Island, Rossi held off Hayden for seventh before ending a woeful season on a Ducati in 10th at Valencia.

Despite this being only his second season since he started racing in 1996 where he hasn’t had a win all season, he did have some glory, here are his top three moments:

1.      2012 San Marino Grand Prix

Ducati opted to test in Misano, potentially looking ahead to the upcoming race and they tried many different setups and came with one that had worked in those conditions. Come race day, Rpssi was in a joint best grid slot of sixth and was in an effective fifth as Pedrosa was forced to start from the back. Off the line, he got a lightning start, jumping up into second to the delight of Ducati and his adoring fans that make the journey down. The Tifosi went wild but could he hold onto this position? Bradl had been on a faster bike all season and was now hunting down Rossi. But Rossi showed good pace and was keeping a reasonable gap to Bradl, but surely it was when not if? It wasn’t. Bradl fell back leaving Rossi in some clean air with no challenge behind. Behind him, the Gresini of Bautista was charging through, showing immense pace but would he catch up with Rossi? He got held up with a battle with Dovizioso, leaving Rossi a comfortable two second gap and allowed him to take his joint highest result of the season. The pace was there, only four seconds behind Lorenzo and there seemed to be a new found belief in the Ducati, could Rossi win with them before he left? These dreams were not to be though as the pace dissipated with this the last time he was on the podium this season.

2.      2012 French Grand Prix

The race in France was hit by rain, but rain brought out the secret talent of the Desmosedici GP12. It was one of the best bikes in the wet weather conditions and under the hands of one of the best riders in the rain, a strong result was inevitable. Off the line, Rossi was up to sixth by turn two and at the end of the first lap was up to fourth. Pedrosa then fell behind Rossi who was in third now and almost challenging Stoner, but on lap 13 he was passed in quick succession by both of the Tech 3 riders. Was the chance over for Rossi? The Ducati hadn’t been the best bike in the opening rounds and it seemed as if it had hit its limits. But Rossi’s winning mentality showed, he wasn’t fighting for the win, but for a podium and on lap 15 was back ahead of Crutchlow. Four laps later he was ahead of Dovizioso and within seven laps of each other, both Tech 3s had gone off the track and re-joined. But Rossi wasn’t done yet; he set off in hot pursuit of Stoner and caught up with him on the penultimate lap. He made a move but couldn’t make it stick, but on the last lap, Rossi got past him and much to the delight of his team, took the first podium for Ducati since Rossi was in third a year ago at the same location, can he go one better next year for Yamaha?

3.      2012 Italian Grand Prix

Apart from the brace of podiums, Rossi didn’t get much more success and didn’t taste champagne again after those two, but his next best finish was a very special one. An Italian rider on an Italian bike has been dreamed of by Ducati for years, they tried to get him in 2003 when he was leaving Honda but he went to Yamaha, but after all the years of trying, they succeeded in 2011 and it wasn’t just Rossi’s home Grand Prix, it was the teams. So the pressure of him wanting to do well was coupled with the team wanting to do well, one of the is challenging enough, but the pair was a whole new level of pressure, but if there is one man who can deal with it, it’s the Doctor. He started in a lowly 10th place, behind his teammate in fourth and even the Pramac of Barbera in third. He was the lowest place Ducati. But the ever resilient Rossi battled on, at the end of lap three, he had only gained one position to ninth, but three laps later, he had passed Crutchlow and Barbera for seventh. When Stoner dropped back the next lap, Rossi was in sixth and just behind his teammate who was fighting with Bradl while Rossi fought with Crutchlow. Hayden got the short straw when trying a move on Bradl and dropped two positions on the final lap, leaving Rossi to take the honour of highest Ducati in Mugello and the Tifosi went wild. The gift that kept on giving rewarded the fans who turned up en masse.

Despite some scintillating performances, the bike was not good enough and Rossi announced that he was re-joining his old friend back at Yamaha, so here are his targets for next season:

Make the top three in the Championship. If he can make sixth on Ducati, a bike that was a lot worse than the Yamaha he’s joining, what can stop him from taking a top three spot in the Championship? His main rivals will be Pedrosa and Lorenzo, and we’ll have to wait and see what the new boy Marquez can do, but Rossi is a nine time world Champion, he has the record to prove what phenomenal things he can do on the right bike, and if the has a competitive bike, what’s to stop him from taking the Championship? We’ll have to wait and see what Yamaha can produce, but Rossi would be able to get a good result on anything. It’s not just the pace of the bike, but the quality of the rider; put him on a push bike and he would probably still find a way to get a podium. Form is temporary, but class is permanent.

Beat Lorenzo. The rivalry was at its peak in 2009, and when Rossi beat him in his home race of Catalunya at the last corner, the tension was running high. After the controversial wall was put in the garage, the relationship was shattered. But since they were no longer teammates, the pair seemed very grateful towards each other with Lorenzo welcoming Rossi back into the team, and what better gift can Rossi give Lorenzo than beating him? He has the pace to do it and the experience, and they’re on equal equipment. The last time Rossi managed to beat Lorenzo when they both finished was in Assen 2011. The pair are highly motivated, and once they meet on track, they’ll both know the stakes are high, but who will crumble under the pressure.

Win races. His final target is arguably the simplest for him to achieve. After his first two seasons without a single win, he will be hoping to return to the top step of the podium very soon in his Yamaha return to prove he hasn’t lost it. Before his move to Ducati, he seemed to have the Midas touch over every machine he drove, pushing it to the limit and beyond and he will be hoping to recapture that magic again and very soon.

Valentino Rossi – 7/10.

By Daniel Taky - MotoGP correspondent
 In the pictures - Valentino Rossi
 Pictures from the web


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